Monday, March 02, 2009

What Makes These Times "Uniquely Precarious"?

It has been recently argued, "We are living in uniquely precarious times." I completely agree that this statement is true. I simply disagree with pretty much everything that comes after it.

But what does make these times uniquely precarious? In particular, what forces might be greater threats to the future of biblical, gospel Christianity than the resurgence of Reformed theology?

My spare copy of Polity will be shipped free of charge to the person who offers the best response. (Please explain briefly the rationale your answers.) You may enter more than once, and if we get to 25 valid proposals (I judge . . . probably arbitrarily), I'll send something special to the person with the 25th entry.

And speaking of Polity, if anyone who's at Maranatha's Conference on Baptist Fundamentalism this week can get an explanation for why the author of these lecture notes (PDF) seems to think Greg Wills is an indifferentist on the doctrine of the church, I'd be much obliged. It seems as though Wills is alleged to be saying the precise opposite of what he means. Here's the quote:
Many contemporary scholars believe that the New Testament is silent, or ambiguous at the very least, on the topic of church government. George Eldon Ladd, theologian and former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, laments that, “It appears likely that there was no normative pattern of church government in the apostolic age, and that the organizational structure of the church is no essential element in the theology of the church” (A Theology of the New Testament, p. 534). “Baptists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries generally agreed. Church polity, they conceded, was not the most essential area of doctrine. But just because it was not central to salvation did not mean that it was not important. The doctrine of the church was as much revealed truth as the element of orthodox belief. For this reason Baptists sometimes disfellowshiped one another over disagreements in polity.” (Wills, Greg. “The Church: Baptists and Their Churches in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.” Polity. Mark E. Dever, ed. Sheridan Books, 2001, 19.) Such opinions do not match those of our forefathers. [emphasis added]


Anonymous said...

Ben you have way to much time on your hands. It's kind of sad, actually. I doubt people like Dr. Phelps (who seems to be your most recent target) would ever have time to respond to all of your "concerns." Maybe it's because they're out doing the ministry. You should try it.

Jason said...

Prosperity makes these days uniquely precarious.

Our most un-unique enemies are the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Our world today knows prosperity un-imagined by any generation previous to ours. This prosperity threatens to draw our affections away from God and His Christ.

vizaviz said...

These times are precarious because institutions seem to be leading movements, possibly without even realizing it. As such, the local church has become the de-facto servant of the institutions, instead of vice-versa.

In the meantime, there are those who see the problem and want to make changes, and those who don't and think the status quo is fine. It'll be interesting to see what takes place within various movements as this struggle continues. It'd be better if the local church could truly exercise some level of autonomy, rather than feeling the need to be glued to a movement.

Greg said...

Anonymous, I hope you weren't expecting the free copy of Polity - I don't think that's going to get it done. But maybe if you're lucky Ben will send you "something special"!

Chris Anderson said...


Ben said...

Blogs are certainly a far greater threat than Reformed theology.

brian said...

The (Western) church which, in the face of increased economic, political and social suffering, stands up for her rights instead of embracing Christ's sufferings for the sake of the Christ's gospel.

Anonymous said...


While I can't divine his mind, here's what the good man from Watertown probably had in mind when he referenced Calvinism. He has a right to worry.

From Calvin himself:

1. "By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are pre-ordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death."

2. "I confess that it (the decree of reprobation), is indeed a horrible decree, (decretum quidem horribile* fateor). No one, however, will be able to say, but that God foreknew what would be the end of man before he formed him. . And he therefore foreknew it, because he had so ordained by his own decree."

3. "I acknowledge that this is my doctrine, that Adam fell not by the mere permission of God, but also by his secret counsel, and that by his fall he drew all his posterity to eternal destruction."

4. "Foolish men raise many grounds of quarrel with God, as if they held him subject to their accusations. First, they ask why God is offended with his creatures, who have not provoked him by any previous offence; for to devote to destruction whomsoever he pleases, more resembles the caprice of a tyrant than the legal sentence of a judge, and, therefore, there is reason to expostulate with God, if at his mere pleasure men are, without any desert of their own, predestinated to eternal death. If at any time thoughts of this kind come into the mind of the pious, they will be sufficiently armed to suppress them by considering how sinful it is to insist on knowing the causes of the Divine will, since it is itself, and justly ought to be, the cause of all that exists."

5. "I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy, unless that it so seemed meet to God. Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to ba before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. ...Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man and in him the ruin of his posterity: but also at his own pleasure arranged it [Sed arbitrio quoque suo dispensasse.]" (Ibid, sec. 7).

6. "I own it to be my doctrine that Adam fell and involved all his posperity in eternal ruin, not only by the bare permission of God, but also by his secret purpose."

7. "The refusal of the reprobate to obey the Word of God when manifested to them will be properly ascribed to the malice and depravity of their hearts, provided it be at the same added that they were adjudged to this depravity, because they were raised up by the inscrutable judgment of God, to shew forth his glory by their condemnation.

8. "We say, then, that Scripture clearly proves this much, that God, by his eternal and immutable counsel, determined once for all those whom it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. We maintain that this counsel, as regards the elect, is founded on his free mercy, without any respect to human worth, while those whom he dooms to destruction are excluded from access to life by a just and blameless, but, at the same time, incomprehensible judgment"

From Amandus Polanus

1. Destination to shame is before rejection from the grace of election. For that which is last in execution is first in intention, that is, in counsel and cogitation"

2. "The moving cause for which reprobation is made is not sin" (Ibid, p. 133).

3. "Rebellion is not the cause of the decree of reprobation, but consequently flows from it."

4. "Sin is not the cause of the eternal will of God, but the decree of reprobation is the eternal will of God: therefore sin is not the cause of the decree of reprobation. The proof of the major is, because the eternal will of God is the first and highest cause: otherwise it were not, but sin would be before it; for every efficient cause is before the effect, as says Augustine, If the will of God hath any cause, something goes before it: which is gross to surmise. Because God's will dependeth on no superior cause."

5. "The punishment of damnation is one thing, and the eternal decree of inflicting the punishment is another. Indeed, God decreed to lay the punishment on the devils for sin, but sin is not therefore the cause of the decree. Sin is the cause of punishment, but not of the decree of punishing."

From Zanchius:

1. "It is for the glory of God, the safety of the Church, and the common good of the whole world, that neither should all be elect, nor all reprobate. As, therefore, God foreknew all things from eternity, so out of all mankind he elected some and reprobated others; but all he predestinated, either to death or to life eternal. This predestination, as it is eternal, so it is also absolute and unconditional. And the number of the elect is so fixed that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Moreover, it is sure and unchangeable, so that neither can any of the elect bo reprobated, nor can the reprobate become elect — As election is wholly of grace, so in regard to as many as God has reprobated, though they shall not be condemned except on account of their sins, yet they have not been reprobated on account of their sins foreseen, but only by the mere good pleasure of the Divine will. Reprobation, however, is followed by denial of grace; this by sins; and sins by punishment; to all which God has foreordained the reprobate from all eternity, most justly in his judgment, and for the most excellent ends, namely his own glory and the good of the elect."

2. "These things are manifest from the event and order in which things occur, according to that most certain rule: that which is first in intention in last in execution. But eternal damnation is the last effect of God's decree in the case of the reprobate. It was, therefore, the first thing which God determined concerning them from eternity, namely, the ordination of certain men to everlasting destruction. For this end were their sins ordained; and for their sins, their desertion and the denial if grace were appointed. The first part of reprobation in the mind of God was therefore affirmative (as the schoolmen say), that is, an appointment to eternal death for the display of his wrath and the manifestation of his glory. But the latter part was negative, that is, a decree not to pity them, that so they might be justly damned."

3. "Because reprobation is immutable, by which the reprobate are appointed to be vessels of iniquity unto dishonour, and therefore also vessels of wrath, we grant that the reprobate are by this decree of God, laid under a necessity of sinning, and therefore also of perishing, nud that they are so held fast that they cannot but sin and perish."

4. "We hesitate not, therefore, to confess that there lieth upon reprobates by the power of their unchangeable reprobation a necetsity of sinning, yea, of sinning even unto death, without repentance, and consequently of perishing everlastingly."

From Maccovious:

1. "Those things which God hath decreed necessarily come to pass. This has been proved already. Hence, therefore, is drawn the conclusion, that the will of God is to be known from the event, as for instance, because different men arrive at different ends, and at different means, that therefore God hath so decreed. Prov. 16:14; Ro. 9:22. For neither did God decree that anyone should be wicked before he decreed his destruction, nor did he decreee that any should be vessels of wrath, before he decreed to fit them to destruction. for the means are for the sake of the end, not the end for the sake of the means. And from these points now discussed it is clear that God from eternity decreeed the end and the means in the case of those who perish, and consequently that they may be said to be foreordained, though to destruction."

2. "God permitted sin, and for a definite end. Therefore before man sinned he was ordained to the end which is reached by sin. But sin is the way to eternal death, unless God deliver us through Christ. Therefore eternal death was the end of reprobation. Therefore some men were ordained to eternal death before they were ordained to sin."

3. "It is objected that it seems hard to create men to eternal damnation. We reply, that our question is not what seems hard to human reason, but what says the Scripture. Certainly Scripture clearly teaches this in places pointed out to us. It is objected again, that if God ordained them also to sin, since he cannot punish anyone but for sin. We replay. This too Scripture expressly teaches" {See Acts 2:33; 4:27,28; 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 4).

From Marloratus:

"If anyone is reprobated it is because the Lord hath determined in some way to manifest his own glory by him. In time, that anyone is elected or hardened arises only from God's good pleasure, whose justice it were impious to question. God creates and sets forth whom he pleases that he may glory himself by their perdition. The hardening described to God denotes not only permission (as certain milk and water theologians imagine), but also an active exercise of divine wrath. For all those outward things which tend to the hardening of the reprobate, are the instruments of his wrath. Yea, Satan himself, who effectually works within them is so his servant that he does nothing but by his command. In vain, therefore, do the schoolmen put forth their puerile subterfuge about foreknowledge. For Paul does not say that God foresees the destruction of the wicked, but that he has foreordained it by his own purpose and will. And Solomon too teaches, not merely that the perdition of the wicked was foreseen by God, but that the wicked themselves were expressly created that they might perish. Therefore all that pertains to us depends more entirely on the hand of God than the earthen vessel on the hand of the potter. For God creates us out of nothing, whereas the potter moulds the vessel out of pre-existent clay — Let it be always remembered that God would be in part deprived of his honour if he were not accounted absolute lord over mankind so as to be the arbiter of life and death. Even the wicked God makes use of, and that to good purpose, even when they act most wickedly, and rush to ruin. Now all are made by God, and certainly made and adapted in mind and body, and every quality of both, for those ends for which God employs them. But this end in the reprobate is their destruction. What then hinders our confessing that they are made and fitted by God for destruction, as the apostle is not ashamed to own? Therefore Scripture fears not to declare, for the glory of God, that he both reprobates the unborn, and that he hardens, drives to perdition, and finally overwhelms and destroys whom he pleases. This is the power justly exercised over us by our potter, who does nothing rashly, and inflicts injustice on none.

From Piscator:

"The predestination of God, by which he elects some men to everlasting life, and reprobates others to eternal death, does not depend on his foresight of works, good or bad, but proceeds from the free love and hatred of God."

From Martyr:

"What we have hitherto proved concerning election, — viz., that it does not depend on foreseen works, we now also assert regarding reprobation, understanding by reprobation God's eternal purpose to withhold his mercy."

From Pareus:

"To affirm that God reprobates any on account of foreseen unbelief is blasphemy against God, a denial of his sovereignty, and a robbing him of his glory."


Coach C said...

In my book, visaviz is the leader out of the gate.

Not exactly sure who tjp is, but he needs his own blog.

"Anonymous", you may need to review Acts 6:2 where the apostles said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables." We minister when truth is proclaimed. Ministry that is not supported by theological rigor can lead to dangerous places.

My comment is not directed at Dr. Phelps, but rather at your sentiment that seems to denigrate the diligent study of Scripture, the proper application of hermeneutics and the priority of systematic theology.

Michael said...

What makes these times unique is that Christians have shown the world that good and joy come with Christianity, and so the world has rejected good and joy. Everything must be as miserable as possible so that we are wrong.

Coach C said...

Okay, I've thought about this for a little bit and I am going to enter the contest:

These times are no more uniquely precarious to the cause of Christ than any other time in history. Yes, some might say that a certain particular stripe of independent baptist fundamentalism might be facing some challenges, but I will let others determine the source of those threats.

God's plan for the ages is facing no more or less threat than that posed by the Jewish leaders at the time of Christ, the persecutions of the Roman Empire, the Inquisition or communist Russia.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

How about "pretty much anything else" is a greater threat to Biblical Christianity than a resurgence of Reformed Theology.

Jason said...


Use your real name or go away. You waste everyone's time when you aren't willing to be held accountable for what you say.

Anonymous said...

Coach C.

tjp: Tracy J. Pennock

Now for you: Not exactly sure who Coach C. is, but he needs to come clean.

Have a good one.


Bob from Dublin said...

I think that the answer to what makes these times uniquely precarious is found in the list in 2 Timothy 3 that follows the words, "This know that in the last days perilous times shall come . . ." The answer to addressing these perilous time is the clear proclamation of the Word of God and particularly the gospel - to tell people the truth about Christ. It is always a precarious position when a people turn away from God's Word (2 Timothy 4:3-4) . . . eternally precarious.

Anonymous said...

"Churches in America and around the world are forsaking the biblical foundations of faith... The pulpit has been replaced by the platform, and people are hungry for the Word." - Dr. Oats

I know it isn;t mine and I know it is over 25 words . . . but I think it is relevent and ironic.


Coach C said...

Sorry, tjp, I used to link my name to a blog . . . but that was a while ago. I no longer have a relevant blog or webpage. Coach C is my handle over at SharperIron. My info is public over there.

Josh Caucutt - a mostly soccer coach and sometimes an amateur theologian.

Ben said...


What makes it ironic?

DM said...

What makes these times uniquely precarious...

Within fundamentalism, our young and bright preachers and thinkers are infatuated with conservative evangelicalism. While they openly recognize the utter barenness of evangelicalism as a whole, they are drawn to the "T4G crowd" as an oasis in the desert of compromise, powerlessness, and weakened churches.

The resulting problem is not primarily that they embrace a Calvinistic soteriology. The problem is not primarily that they have embraced a Reformed ecclesiology. The problem is this: in being drawn to conservative evangelicalism, they have smuggled covenantalism into the "gospel" for which they claim to stand so strongly.

Ben said...


Care to explain the smuggling you're talking about?


I'll announce the winner sometime after 8am tomorrow. So if you want to enter, do so by then. It's still an open contest in my mind.

By my count we have 10 entries right now.

Anonymous said...

I think . . .the irony is the purpose of the newly formed seminary at that institution is formed out of a need to rectify the turning of pulpits into platforms by educating men in biblical authority. It calls our attention to a hunger for the word while the President of the same institution speaks from a 'platform' of mans opinion which is contrary to church history and calls biblical truth regarding salvation a threat.

What will these people do who are trained in such a biblical view of the pulpit when their institution abandons publicly what they teach in the classroom?


DM said...

I guess I'm trying to say that when you graze in the fields of evangelicalism, if you have a bone of contending in your body, you will be drawn to the most conservative group within evangelicalism, which is the T4G crowd. Unfortunately, I get the vibe from this crowd that Reformed theology = the gospel, not that Reformed theology contains the gospel.

I could be wrong, but that's what I'm perceiving...

Ben said...


I think this could be a useful conversation to have. I'm just not sure that I yet know what you mean. Can you give me an example that illustrates your concerns? Even something I've said?

So John MacArthur is in that crowd. Has he smuggled covenantalism (I assume you mean classic Covenant theology and do not deny the covenantalism of the Bible) into the gospel?

DM said...


When speaking of "vibes" it's hard to be incredibibly specific if you know what I mean; generalities are almost a given in such a discussion. Forgive me for my lack of nuance and documented examples.

MacArthur is in the crowd because he's calvinistic (or what some would called Reformed soteriology, although I take issue with that label); however, he is in the vast minority as a dispensationalist.

While the group's moniker is: Together for the Gospel, it's hardly a secret that you aren't really "in the club" unless you are Reformed.

Does anyone deny that the conservative charge in evangelicalism is dominated by the Reformed?

That's really my only point. When some of our best and most gifted young theologians and preachers are drawn away from fundamentalism into broader evangelical circles, it's almost (notice the word almost) impossible for them to remain dispensationalists.

It's fashionable to be Reformed. I think this trend makes these times "uniquely precarious" from my perspective.

Ben said...


Great, that's helpful. But let me clarify one more thing. I'm assuming that every time you use the word "Reformed" you're referring to someone who subscribes to classical CT. True?

I ask because in common vernacular, Reformed/Calvinist can refer to Reformed/Calvinist soteriology, or to the entire system. It doesn't do any good if we're using terms differently and talk past each other. CT is a helpful term because it's attached more directly to the entire system. Though we need to recognize (as Phelps seems not to have) that you can be CT and a Baptist.

Now, you're assuming a couple things. One is that the young theologians and preachers you refer to are switching from dispensationalism to CT because it's fashionable. I'm not sure who these people are. I can't think of any among my friends who consider themselves CT (off the top of my head, at least). But even if there are some (many?), suggesting that fashionability rather than exegesis is their motivation seems speculative and unhelpful to me. Talk to them and test their exegesis. You'll disagree, but you'll get a feel for why they're making their decisions.

Now, there's something else going on here. Most of the guys I know from 10 years or so ago have been drawn to the Reformed crowd because they were well-taught in their fundamentalist education to appreciate certain things. And they find affinity for the places where they find those things proclaimed and modeled.

DM said...

Ben, while I would agree that you can be CT and Baptist as well, you cannot be Reformed and a Dispensationalist.

Furthermore, if you are Reformed, it seems you are buying into the hermeneutic of CT (which leads to the soteriology and eschatological scheme).

I'm not saying that some of this isn't based upon exegesis. What I am saying is that if you first leave fundamentalism to broader circles of evangelicalism, you will probably find yourself in the most conservative sphere, which is Reformed, conservative Evangelicalism.

CT goes with this far too often...

Ben said...


When you say "you cannot be Reformed and a Dispensationalist," I assume you mean you cannot hold to both the Reformed system (CT, right, or am I forgetting something?) and the Dispensationalist system. That's true. But you can certainly hold to Reformed soteriology and Dispensationalism.

And on you last point, I will agree without reservation that the circles you are a part of often have influence over how you read Scripture and what you believe. And since not everybody reads Scripture the same way and believes the same things, that means many people are going to be influenced to incorrect conclusions by the people around them.

DM said...

While I abhor the label "Reformed Soteriology," I would agree that you can be dispensational and Calvinistic (i.e. DBTS).

Anonymous said...


I know this is your discussion with Ben, so I won't hijack it but,
out of curiosity, what does that term represent to you that you despise?

Also, it seems to me you make Ben's point for him by citing that it is the bright and thinking ones that are departing. Perhaps they are bright and thinking not because of a desire to be fashionable in their theology but are bright and thinking and realize that in many ways conservative evangelicalism is historic fundamentalism.


Coach C said...

Not to pile on, but maybe you can answer all of the questions at once . . . DM, are you saying that young theologians are leaving fundamentalism because of calvinistic soteriology and then as a result of this move, they are then moving into covenant theology proper? Are you making a slippery slope argument?

Ben and I and most of the orthodox individuals with whom I interact have a strong belief in the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of Scripture. Our belief in the sovereignty of God results in a strong adherence to the doctrine of election. We (IMHO) got to this point as a result of a literal, historical, dare I say, fundamentalist hermeneutic.

A "covenantal hermeneutic" did not convince me of the truth of my convictions on the matter of soteriology. I believe that this same literal, historical hermeneutic will keep Ben and others from embracing all of covenant theology.

DM said...


I don't like the phrase "Reformed Soteriology" because it seems too loaded to me. I would want to use language that makes it clear that covenantalism is not in view. Why not "I'm Calvinistic in my soteriology" instead of "I'm Reformed in my soteriology." You can be Calvinistic and not an ounce Reformed. My same frustration was with that stupid Facebook quiz that was going around for a while.

Just a pet peeve.

Coach C,

"DM, are you saying that young theologians are leaving fundamentalism because of calvinistic soteriology and then as a result of this move, they are then moving into covenant theology proper?"

No, that's not what I'm saying.

I didn't give the reason for the original move. I'm saying once there, they are drawn almost instinctively to a group who is "together for the gospel," a group that is dominated by CT, a group that gives me the "vibes" (at least)that they stand for the gospel, but that you have be to (a) Calvinistic or even better (b) a Covenant theologian and Calvinistic to be in their club.

Ben said...


That's interesting how you use terms. As much as I hate to reveal my ignorance, I didn't know anyone saw a major difference between the Calvinistic system (the whole system, not just soteriology) and the Reformed system. (Obviously, there are arguments over the details.)

So I've heard people use both terms to refer either to the narrow range of soteriology or to the whole system. "Calvinism" probably tends to refer merely to soteriology, and "Reformed" probably has more association with the system. But I've thought of them as having a lot of semantic overlap. So maybe there's a big hole in my thinking/experience.

Anonymous said...

So when is the winner being announced?